A hero is dead. If atheists had martyrs…

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar is a hero.  He has spent the last 30 years in India where, out of compassion for its citizenry, he has fought those who would deceive in order to turn a profit.

If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.

In the world for which we yearn, a world in which what is real is far more important to us than what we want to believe, there would be nothing but admiration for this man.  Sadly, human beings do not always value what is real.  Often, they do everything in the power to keep reality at the gates for fear their world views will come crashing down.  This is the part of the human condition Dr. Dabholkar attempted to cleanse.  In the end, it destroyed him through the hands of one of the very people he was trying to save.

That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.

When murder can exist where so much gratitude should be, you can be sure that the universe cares nothing for justice.  Fortunately, as always, humans will attempt to insert compassion into an uncaring universe…I just wish we were better at it.

One might think that Dabholkar’s endeavors were for naught, since religion continues to deprive people of the same compassion for others that drove Dabholkar’s work:

The founder of one such group, Sanatan Sanstha, noting that he did not condone the killing, did not bother to feign sorrow over Dr. Dabholkar’s death.

“Instead of dying of old age, or by surgery, which causes a lot of suffering, the death Mr. Dabholkar got today was a blessing from God,” the leader, a former hypnotherapist now known as His Holiness Dr. Jayant Athavale, wrote in an editorial in the organization’s publication, Sanatan Prabhat.

What a positively sickening thing to say – that a healthy person’s untimely death by homicide was a blessing.  What a morally repugnant sentiment.  How could anybody who had a hint of empathy left in them even think such a thing?  It is one thing to strive with every part of yourself to wish to defeat an idea (and subsequently the people pushing for those ideas), but how can anybody become so eat up with a cause that it takes precedence over their humanity?  How can you want to win so bad that you’ll rejoice when your opponents are hurt/harmed?

And yet we get that sentiment, and it’s visible in people of all different beliefs (or even non-beliefs).  It doesn’t need to be Christians justifying the slaughter of god’s enemies, it’s everywhere.

But Dabholkar’s work was not in vain.  Not at all.

He had received threats from Hindu far-right groups, been beaten by followers of angry gurus and challenged by councils upholding archaic caste laws. His home state, Maharashtra, was considering legislation he had promoted for 14 years, banning a list of practices like animal sacrifice, the magical treatment of snake bites and the sale of magic stones.

In the rush of emotion that followed Dr. Dabholkar’s death, the state’s governor on Saturday signed the so-called anti-black magic bill into force as an ordinance. But Dr. Dabholkar never put stock in sudden breakthroughs, said his son, Hamid Dabholkar, as mourners filtered through the family’s home. “He knew this kind of battle is fought across the ages,” he said. “The journey we have chosen is one that started with Copernicus. We have a very small life, of 70 to 80 years, and the kind of change we will see during that time will be small.”

While the bill has been enacted, it must be endorsed by the India’s parliament or it will lapse.  This was a bill that Dabholkar had supported and was working on before his death.  The legislation is explicit in that it seeks to protect people from exploitation.  It was approved by the cabinet eight years ago but quickly lapsed and has not been heard of since.  Perhaps this will give it the eyes it requires.

Said a palm reader of Dabholkar’s law:

“The Constitution of India has given us freedom of expression,” he said. “Many people say God is not there, but many more believe in God. Many people do not believe in spirits. Many people believe in spirits.” To charges that he was exploiting that belief, he said, “If you go to a doctor, will he treat you for free?”

No, if you can afford to pay a doctor will not treat you for free.  But the doctor will also give you results for your money.  What a decent doctor would never do is take your money and be content to see you walk away unchanged, aside from having less money.

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